Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Thoughts on the Brelo Verdict

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

I am a black resident of Cleveland, Ohio. I am neither surprised, upset nor bitter about the Brelo verdict. Brelo was used as a fall guy so I can't be upset with the outcome. Why should one man pay for the mistakes of many? I understand that the prosecution wanted to hold him up as the bad guy because he temporarily lost his mind and stood on the hood of the car and fired 15 shots in to the vehicle after the other officers stopped shooting. His behavior was outrageous, but so was the behavior of many of the people involved. However, only two of the people involved have documented mental health issues, and surprise, surprise, they are the two who lost their lives. The two people who had a reason to not behave "normally" were the only ones who paid a price that night. The police ignored protocol and engaged in a lengthy car chase with 62 vehicles following one car, yet somehow, the bipolar driver of the car is at fault because the police made the decision not to follow their own rules. Those rules exist for a reason. The main reason is for the safety of the people, but part of that reason is also for the safety of the police. Lots of people have asked, what would have happened if Timothy Russell had just stopped? To those people, I ask, what would have happened if the police had just followed protocol? You see how that works? Both "what ifs" end with the same presumption that Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams would still be alive. 

Food for Thought

I, like many others, read the headlines and wondered why would they lead police on a high speed chase? Why didn't they just stop? Then I found out that Timothy Russell was bipolar and that Malissa Williams was schizophrenic and that both were self-medicating with drugs. These two were not simply "drug addicts" as some people have claimed. They were mentally ill people who used drugs to self-medicate. Some of our  "legal drugs" aka "prescribed medications" are more potent than most street drugs, yet we only consider prescription drugs illegal if they are in the hands of someone who doesn't need them. Why don't we have the same consideration for "illegal drugs?" Why are Timothy and Malissa less worthy of life because their drug of choice was not on the approved list?

There was Only One True Victim...and it Wasn't Brelo

Mental health aside, I submit that the only true victim here is Malissa Williams. Her brother pointed out one very important fact: Malissa did not lead police on a high speed chase because Malissa was the passenger. I heard her brother say that and suddenly I felt like a fool for not using my intellect to decipher that very important detail. The media coverage often says that Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams led police on a high speed chase, but that is factually inaccurate. Timothy Russell led police on a high speed chase. One of the officers even said that at some point during the chase, Malissa put her hands out the window and asked the police to stop chasing them. To anyone who argues that Malissa could have gotten out of the car, I ask, at what point could she have gotten out of the car? Did you think that she should have jumped out of a moving vehicle that was driving up to 100 miles per hour at some point? If jumping out of the car didn't kill her, surely being run over by one of the 62 cars that were in pursuit of them would have. And unfortunately, Malissa did not have an opportunity to surrender once the car stopped because the moment the car stopped moving, the police opened fire and did not stop until 137 bullets had been unloaded on two people. I've heard some people say that the high speed chase endangered the lives of innocent people and I can't argue with that, but I can submit that Malissa should be counted as one of those innocent people.

This Isn't Just About Black People

This is not a police versus black people issue. This is a "something is wrong with the system" issue. If people opened their eyes and did some research they would easily discover that police aren't just killing black people. Police are killing and assaulting lots of unarmed, innocent people. The problem is that, as the judge said, police are given a lot of leeway because they have to make split second decisions. Some of the leeway given to police is unbelievable. Firing 137 shots at two people is perfectly legal because you "feared for your life." We are entering a very dangerous slope of acceptance. "Perceived fear" cannot be an acceptable justification for any and all police actions. Sometimes, the police are just flat out wrong and that doesn't mean that all of the police are bad or that I wouldn't call the police if I need them. I have said it before and I'll say it again, I believe that most police are good people, however, even good people can make mistakes that are criminal. When good civilians make reckless, ill-advised decisions that lead to the death of other people, they often (with the exception of those with money) go to jail. When good cops make reckless, ill-advised decisions that are sometimes in direct violation of department policy, they might get fired, but often are simply reprimanded or suspended. This is the classic "do as I say, not as I do" situation and it is unfair to the taxpaying citizens who are ultimately left footing the bill for civil suits against the city.

Cleveland Ain't About That Life

I'd also like to take a moment and note that there was no real threat of a riot in Cleveland last night. With the exception of protesters walking around and the heavy police presence, it was business as usual downtown. The media tried to incite a riot by continuing to discuss the possibility, but it would take a hell of a lot more than this to get Clevelanders to lose it to the point of damaging our city.